Riviera: The Promised Land
Reviewed by Didi Cardoso
Review Date Platform Genre Rating Production
2005-09-01 GBA RPG T (Teen) Atlus U.S.A. Inc. / Athena Co. Ltd.

I have to admit, I don't play many games on the GBA. Aside from FFT Advance and Tetris, I still haven't gotten acquainted with that handheld. Riviera is now my third "long-lasting relationship" with the GBA, and it's been a good one. The main reason why I wanted to try it is because it seemed very similar to FFT. But it really wasn't, although I say that in a good way.

The story begins as two angels are sent to the world to rid it of demons, a desperate act of the gods to prevent another Ragnarok (the war between angels and demons) from happening.

Riviera is a very innovative game in many ways. First, there is no currency in the game. You don't buy or sell items, you find everything in your explorations. Second, the characters don't level up; it's all about the weapons' power and the character's ability with them. You need to experiment with weapons to find who does better damage with what. Then you use them repeatedly until you learn that weapon's special skill (Overdrive). Depending on the level of the skill you learned, you have to fill the Overdrive bar up to the respective level in order to use the skill. If it sounds complicated, it is, but only a little!

Besides, the best way to "power up" and learn these special skills is by doing practice fights. Since they are for practice, you don't use up your items but you can still find items (if your rank is A) and gain points at the end of a battle.

Inventory space is limited, which kind of sucks. Since items have limited durability and since you can't buy anything anywhere? well, you know where this is going. You have to be selective about what you pick up, since you MUST have weapons, otherwise you don't do damage.

On to the rest of the gameplay. Level progression in the game map has two modes: looking and moving. To move, you will see the "Go!" options on the paths you can take. But if you press the A button in any area, you will find that there is more to be seen. The A button will allow you to find hidden paths, open chests or explore a crack on the rocky ground.

Keep in mind that exploring uses TP, Trigger Points, which you gain at the end of each battle, except in practice battles. An S Rank gives you 4 TP, A Rank gives you 3, B Rank gives you 2, C Rank gives you only one. Using your TP can lead to items or events, so collect as many as you can and use them sparingly and in places where there is obviously something different.

The game really could have used more backgrounds though. The sceneries are very repetitive and if it weren't for the map system, it would have been easy to get completely lost.

I found the game progression to be quite slow, and I don't mean that because of the chatter between characters and the long scrolling text with story advancement. That was actually fine since a good storyline and character relationships always strengthen a game. The fighting was the really slow part. Before each character's turn, the character flashes. But it's not a quick flash that shows in a split second, it's actually quite slow (possibly to make sure you notice it). Some of the animations are also pretty slow, especially the demon mage with the flapping book? hurry up and just cast, will you?

I also couldn't find any option to have all characters attack the same enemy. I like that on my strategy RPGs, since I can kill one at a time faster instead of distributing damage by all enemies. It's not a very efficient strategy and makes the fights even longer.

To slow down the fights some more, there's the "cutscene" of sorts every time someone uses an overdrive. Enemy or not, the screen goes black, the respective character artwork will show with the name of the special attack and there's some voice acting and sound effects to go with it. This is completely superfluous and makes the fights drag for a long time. Sure, it is a nice touch, but there should be an option to turn them all off. At least we can turn off the enemies'.

I really enjoyed the mini-games in Riviera. Opening a trapped chest triggers a button-mashing sequence that will make you dodge the trap (or not, and suffer some consequences like losing HP or stats). Reaching certain areas of the game also begins events that turn into this type of mini-game, like dodging falling boulders or hiding from a patrolling guard, even stopping a sneeze.

Last but not least, the relationship between the girls and the main character is a mini-game in itself. Doing certain actions will cause them to like you more or less, depending on your choices, and most of the times you can't please everyone. These actions will cause your party members to trust you more and will affect their mood. Their mood is directly related to how they do in battle, so you will want to keep them happy. Mood and trust vary throughout the course of the story, and you can check it on the Status screen.

What's important to note here is that trust will affect the game's ending, so yes, there are multiple endings!

Riviera really is an original game that will keep RPG fans hooked for a good 20 hours or more. There is a lot going on in it that sets it apart from your regular RPG, so if you've been looking to play something different, this is it.

Special thanks to Gail Salamanca and Atlus for loaning a copy of the game.